Looking Back So I Can Move Forward
I was born somewhere in South Gyeongsang Province of South Korea. Four months later, I adopted and raised in New York, surrounded by an entirely white family and a predominately white community.
Adoptees are led to believe that life starts the moment your parents “choose” you. Since I had no memory of my early infancy, I didn’t see any reason to let that time affect me. My birth certificate wasn’t even Korean – it listed an alleged birthplace, but not my birth name. Instead, the reissued New York State document listed more information about my adoptive parents than it did about me. So from adoption, my connection to Korea and that life was virtually erased.
Growing up, I continued to dismiss my adoption. Other than every year in August, when our “Family Birthday” (my adoption day) rolled around, it stayed buried deep inside of me. However, what I couldn’t ignore was my ethnicity. I couldn’t deny the fact that I looked different from my entire family. When kids asked about my appearance, I stomached childhood shame. I dreaded awkward glances from strangers when they saw my parents and I enter a room. And I learned to laugh off the inevitable question, “Where are you really from?” The hate and judgment from the outside world, combined with love and deceiving colorblindness from family members, confused me even more. It made me resent being adopted.
I’ve struggled with my mental health for as long as I can remember. I met with counselors throughout my adolescence and eventually found a supportive therapist during high school. During this time, I experienced deep depression, isolation, and suicide ideation. I didn’t know who I was and felt trapped in my own body. My therapist at the time was helpful, but we never talked about adoption.
Fast forward to my 20’s, I’m living on my own and have relocated to Los Angeles. I find myself suddenly surrounded by more people who look like me. And instead of feeling seen, I felt imposter syndrome. I was caught between two identities, feeling unworthy in both worlds. The years continued to pass, full of disappointment, unease, and self-destructive behaviors. Then after some self-reflection, I felt something suddenly shift. There was a rush of urgency, and I knew I had to take care of myself for survival.
At the start of 2020, I finally started exploring my primal wound and adoption trauma with a therapist. I don’t know why these feelings took so long to resurface, but I am ready to accept them. When August rolled around, I began to look at my first four months and put my whole story together. My adoption day will always hold unique meaning for me. Just now, I see it with both eyes open. The myth about being chosen prevented me from recognizing my whole story. Before I was adopted, I had to lose something – a life, a family, culture, opportunity. My entire identity has worth and value.
I choose to reclaim this part of my life. The phrase “coming out of the fog” refers to increased awareness and coming to terms with feelings and understandings about adoption. These first steps took 33 years. Although this will be a lifelong struggle, I feel more like myself every day.
I am not my trauma, but I am growing from it and am proud to say that it’s inspired a renewed purpose in my life. I am taking the first steps on a new path for myself and others. I hope to support other adoptees struggling with their mental health and racial identity. To any adoptee who’s reading – This journey can feel lonely, unsafe, and underrepresented. But you are not alone, and you are worthy.
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